Monthly Archives: September 2011

Brownback endorses Pompeo for second term in Congress

Pompeo

Gov. Sam Brownback wants Rep. Mike Pompeo to stay in Washington, D.C., endorsing him Tuesday for a second term in Congress.

“Mike, I’m glad you’re liking the commute,” Brownback joked after the 4th District Congressman confirmed he would run for re-election.

Pompeo, R-Wichita, said he wanted Brownback at his side for the announcement because he has watched how the federal government meddles with state government.

The federal government, he said, makes a lot of decisions that keep state leaders from doing what they need to do.

“The good ideas that I have seen in my first year have all come from governors,” Pompeo said, noting that state leaders have to balance budgets and can’t simply print more money to operate.

“The math has to work,” Pompeo said.

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Pompeo plans campaign announcement with Brownback

Rep. Mike Pompeo at his victory party in November 2010.

TOPEKA — Congressman Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, plans to make an unspecified campaign announcement at a news conference with Gov. Sam Brownback Tuesday afternoon.

The venue is Comm-Tech, a telecommunications software and equipment business near 37th Street North and Webb, that Pompeo’s campaign calls a “job creator.” Spokeswoman Amie Emerson said Pompeo hasn’t officially filed for re-election, but will make a campaign announcement.

Pompeo has been aggressively raising money in recent months. He was the third-highest fundraiser among freshmen House members in the second quarter of 2011, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He raised $492,881 during that quarter, the Center’s site, OpenSecrets.org shows.  He had $587,921 in campaign funds available at the end of June.

Employees and companies in the oil and gas industry are his largest donors. Koch Industries leads the pack during the 2011-2012 campaign cycle with $27,500 (that’s $21,500 from individuals with ties to Koch and $6,000 from its political action committee). Comm-Tech, meanwhile, tied for Pompeo’s 37th largest donor with dozens of other companies.

Comm-Tech President Arthur E. Alvis has contributed a total of $7,300 to Pompeo since September 2009, according to data compiled by the Federal Election Commission.

I wanna hold your hand

A bit of laughter kicked off a meeting this morning at which Sedgwick County commissioners are discussing the county’s legislative agenda for the next session.

The legislative agenda, or platform, is the county’s wishlist for funding and support from the state.

The first item on the platform asks the state for $5 million to keep low-cost airlines at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.

Commissioner Richard Ranzau made several challenges to the county’s position on low-cost airfares, questioning if they are, in fact, “vitally important to business travelers” and economic growth.

Ranzau also expressed concern about the Regional Economic Area Partnership having final say about how state dollars are spent to secure low airfares.

While considering whether to make any changes in the platform, Commissioner Jim Skelton said he thought he was on board with the county’s position as written. But he said he wanted to reserve the right to speak more to Ranzau and Commissioner Karl Peterjohn about their views.

“Will you hold my hand if I get stuck, manager,” Skelton asked County Manager William Buchanan.

“Figuratively and literally,” Buchanan answered.

“I better get stuck here pretty quick,” Skelton joked.

Brownback endorses Perry for president

Gov. Sam Brownback

TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback announced this morning that he endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry for president. In a news release, he cited Perry’s record on creating jobs and reducing taxes.

“Rick Perry is the right leader for this moment in history,” Brownback said in a prepared statement. “Now, more than ever, America needs a president who knows how to create jobs and stop Washington’s runaway spending.”

Brownback will attend tonight’s GOP debate in Orlando, Fla. The Perry campaign will pay for Brownback’s travel expenses.

Brownback’s link to Perry became national news last month when Brownback attended a national prayer rally called The Response at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. Perry had invited all of the nation’s governors, members of Congress and the Obama Administration. Brownback was the only governor besides Perry to speak at the rally, although Florida Gov. Rick Scott provided comments on a recorded video.

Brownback, who paid for his travel expenses, read two passages from the Bible, Matthew 5:3-16 and 2 Chronicles 7:13-14, and offered a prayer during the event, according to the Kansas City Star.

In 2008, Brownback ran for president. But he withdrew his candidacy after failing to raise sufficient money and a poor finish in an Iowa straw poll. Brownback later endorsed Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Brownback gives group glimpse into upcoming tax plan

Brownback

Gov. Sam Brownback tonight foreshadowed an upcoming economic plan featuring deep tax cuts, streamlined regulatory processes and big changes in the public-employee retirement system.

Working with Arthur Laffer, the architect of former President Reagan’s supply-side economics, the Brownback administration is using advanced software to wargame various scenarios for cutting — and possibly over time eliminating — the state income tax.

Noting that Kansas loses about 3,000 taxpaying citizens a year, Brownback said he thinks tax cuts can reverse the trend of population outflow and bring more prosperity to the central plains.

“You’re going to see the middle of the country, our area will be the one that will grow,” Brownback said. “It will be the low-tax places, the places where people can go to be able to have a reasonable return on their investment, be able to have a reasonable job growth opportunity.”

Brownback spoke before a friendly pro-business/conservative crowd of about 350 at the annual dinner of the Kansas Policy Institute, a low-tax, low-regulation, small-government think tank.

The biggest spontaneous cheer of the evening was for a video of Reagan’s famed line, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

Brownback offered only the broad outlines of his plan.

“We have to permanently reduce the marginal tax rates, we need to dynamically capture the growth that we get out of this for further reduction in taxes,” Brownback said. “That’s the model that we’re on, we’re going to be pressing that … we will come out with a full proposal with all the details necessary moving forward.”

Brownback said the plan draws heavily on Laffer’s economic theory that tax cuts lead to growth that ultimately creates more income for government than it had at a higher tax rate.

“That’s what the design of this will be, (initially) a static model, because to sell it to the Legislature, we’ve got to show we can produce those dollars,” Brownback said. “But we want the dynamic piece at the other end.”

What that means, according to the governor’s staff, is that the early years of the governor’s tax plan will be designed to keep the state’s current level of revenue without assumptions made of additional revenue growth. In the plan’s latter years, some of the added income from economic growth could be directed toward further tax reductions.

Brownback also signaled that he’s planning major changes in the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System, which faces a roughly $8 billion gap between promised benefits and the projected revenue to cover them.

The governor said he will advocate for transitioning state employees from their traditional pension to a plan more like the 401k retirement savings programs common to private sector employment.

“On KPERS, we’ve got to get to a defined contribution system for Kansas public employees,” Brownback said to loud applause. “And we will do this responsibly, a commission is working on this now, but this is clearly the way we need to move forward.”

The governor also outlined the progress his administration is making toward streamlining regulations and laws governing business. He said his staff has identified its list of the first regulations targeted for repeal and areas in which the government can make it easier to start a business.

For example, he said he’s planning a web site where prospective restaurateurs will be able to file a single permit application that will go to all the agencies with oversight authority at the same time. That, he said will eliminate wasted effort.

“You don’t have to walk into 10 places, you don’t have to wait in line at five different places, you’re in,” he said.

He said that’s the kind of service people expect from private-sector businesses and “We should expect no less out of our government.”

Brownback said he doesn’t expect the policies he’s proposing to stop at the state’s borders and has ambitions of them rising to the federal level.

“If we’re successful in these items, and I believe we will (be) … you’re going to see these things migrate federally,” he said. “It will never start in Washington.”

He said Kansas and other states with Republican governors will be “the laboratory of progress.”

“We’re the places to try models for us to grow as a country,” he said. “We did it, we tried it, we fit it and it works, then it moves.”

Kansas tightens rules on welfare programs

TOPEKA — A new set of rules announced late today by the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services aims to reduce fraud and abuse in the state’s welfare system.

One change will require people seeking assistance from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program to participate in a job search while they apply for the assistance.

The new policy will also require those seeking temporary assistance or help from the Child Care Assistance program to include the income of unmarried boyfriends or girlfriends to determine whether they’re eligible for the benefits.

Another move aims to stop people from using cash payouts from Vision Cards to buy alcohol, tobacco  and lottery tickets. SRS spokeswoman Angela de Rocha said the state doesn’t track how much money has been used for such purchases. But she said that it is “widespread.”

“We would have to stand in every convenience store in Kansas to figure out how much,” she said.

The changes will begin Oct. 1 and continue to be implemented through the rest of the year.

“The $10 million to $15 million savings accrued from these policy changes will go to strengthening and expanding SRS’ employment programs and getting people to work,” SRS Secretary Rob Siedlecki said in a prepared statement. “Helping people find jobs is our first priority.”

Report: Kansas is more engaged than most other states

Kansas ranked 7th in the nation for volunteer work. Here, students from Mead Middle School package meals for shipment to earthquake victims in Haiti.

TOPEKA — Maybe it’s all the social and moral issues. Maybe it’s just part of living in Kansas.

Whatever the case, Kansans are more engaged in their communities and politics than folks in most states across the nation, according to a new report released today by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that manages AmeriCorps and other volunteer initiatives, and the National Conference on Citizenship, a nonprofit that tracks civic engagement.

Perhaps most striking is Kansas’ 7th place ranking for volunteer work. Nearly 36 percent of Kansas residents have volunteered in recent years, according to a nationwide survey of about 14,000 people conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau last November. Utah, Iowa and Minnesota led the pack. Florida, Nevada and New York finished in the last three spots.

The survey and other data ranks Kansas 14th in the nation in working with neighbors (Utah, Alaska and Vermont led), 16th in the nation for working in civic groups (Alaska, Minnesota and Utah led) and 22nd in voting (Maine, North Dakota and Vermont led).

A media release accompanying the data says the new research suggests that “civic engagement is a reinforcing cycle.”

“Citizens who participate in one area of civic engagement, like volunteering, are more likely to get involved in groups, contact public officials, or work with neighbors,” the release said.

Wichita council members starting to take sides on water subsidy

Two Wichita City Council members indicated today that they want to begin eliminating a water rate differential that now has residential users subsidizing business customers.

One council member indicated support for keeping the subsidy in place, saying that a change could hurt business and damage the economy.

The council held its first public hearing today on plans to increase water rates for all customers next year.

While an increase is a near certainty, the key question is whether the council will raise rates the same across the board, or hike business rates more to start moving toward rate parity between residential and commercial users.

The public hearing on water rates followed a 3 1/2 hour public hearing on the Douglas Place development and drew only one actual member of the public, Kathy Dittmer of the Wichita Independent Neighborhoods Action Committee.

“We are concerned that the citizen is subsidizing the businesses in the area and worried about that continuing,” Dittmer said. “We really don’t need to be subsidizing that water use.”

She also called on the council to expand the public hearing process out into the community to give more people an opportunity to address the issue.

Two council members, Lavonta Williams and Janet Miller, indicated they agreed.

Miller told City Manager Robert Layton she would like to have city staff make a presentation on water rates to her district advisory board and at an upcoming district coffee gathering.

“As to the disparity on the rates… unless I learn something that would really change my mind, I definitely don’t think there is a very good reason for residential customers to be subsidizing commercial and industrial users.”

Williams requested city staff make a presentation at her district advisory board and at a district breakfast.

“I have always been one of those that does not want to subsidize the water on the backs of the residents, so I hope that you would give me some great information to take back to the community pertaining to just that fact,” Williams said.

Council member Michael O’Donnell signaled his sympathy for the business community’s argument, that addressing the subsidy issue now could hurt economic development. He urged Layton to meet with the Chamber of Commerce and other business associations about water rates.

“I’ve heard from a lot of business owners, because right now we can’t do anything that’s going to stop job growth,” O’Donnell said. “And I think by raising water rates, just like Westar (Energy) coming in raising utility rates as well, would be a huge problem, detriment to job creation stimulation, so we need to do whatever we can to keep those water rates down.”

At present, residential users pay about $2.05 more a month for their water than it costs to serve them, said Thomas Beckley of Raftelis Financial Consultants, a firm hired by the city to analyze the Water and Sewer departments’ costs and rates.

Business consumers as a group pay less than their cost of service, in effect shifting about $3.3 million a year in a subsidy from residential customers to commercial users.

To begin phasing out the disparity, the city staff is recommending increasing residential customer rates for water and sewer service combined by 2.6 to 3.9 percent depending on usage, with a larger 8.2 to 8.3 percent increase for businesses.

The city’s Water Utilities Advisory Committee — a business-dominated group appointed by Mayor Carl Brewer — is recommending that all customers’ rates be raised 5.9 percent for next year.

Skirting failure on clean-air standards, city takes action to start reducing smog

Even Kansas wind wasn’t enough to save Wichita from going over its smog limits this year.

And if the area doesn’t reduce its smog production, pronto, residents and businesses could get hit with some inconvenient and expensive federal air-quality mandates.

In a last-ditch effort to address that problem and help get the city back in compliance with air-quality standards, the City Council today approved spending $150,000 on a program to encourage residents and businesses to voluntarily reduce emissions.

The project will include three parts:

– Creating a system to alert residents on high ozone-level days. In addition to warning people to cut down on driving, burning and other smog-producing activities, the advisories can also guide when children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems should limit their outdoor activities.

– Setting up an outreach program for businesses to help them voluntarily reduce emissions.

– Launching a public-information campaign to raise community awareness and support for smog reduction.

The council voted unanimously to spend $30,000 of city money in matching funds, to obtain a $120,000 federal grant for the project.

Council member Janet Miller said she strongly supports the effort, although the grant-funded project alone won’t be enough to keep the area in compliance.

But it is a start, she said.

“We’ve got to keep taking steps to stay in attainment (of pollution standards) as long as possible,” she said. “Once we’re out of attainment, we’re going to have to do this (voluntary effort) and a whole lot more.”

City officials estimate that falling out of compliance with federal clean-air rules would trigger federal mandates costing local residents and businesses about $10 million.

To meet air-quality standards, the metropolitan area needs to keep the ozone level below .075 parts per million at three monitoring stations, in Peck, central Wichita and Sedgwick. Trouble ensues if the levels rise above .075 more than three times in a year.

This year, the metropolitan area exceeded the allowance at all three stations: Peck, .078; Wichita, .079 and Sedgwick, .080.

The Wichita area didn’t immediately go out of compliance with the federal rules only because the smog results are averaged over three years, said Kay Johnson, manager of environmental initiatives for the city.

But what it does mean is that the metro area will go out of compliance next year, unless residents and businesses reduce air pollution to about the levels they were in 2009, Johnson said.

“If we have another year like this year, it will be a big problem,” Johnson said.

If the smog levels don’t go down, the Environmental Protection Agency will probably step in and require mandatory smog-reduction measures, she said.

And, because most of the city’s big industrial companies have already substantially reduced their smog output, the corrective measures could include car inspection and repair requirements and stricter emission regulations on small businesses such as aircraft machine shops, auto body shops and dry cleaners.

She said agricultural burning in the Flint Hills, smog floating north from Oklahoma and emissions from local cars and industries have all contributed to the problem.

“We have to (reduce) at least one of these things,” Johnson said. And “All we can control is what we do ourselves.”

Finney appointed to board on preschool disabilities

Finney

Rep. Gail Finney has been appointed to serve on the Kansas Interagency Coordinating Council on Early Childhood Developmental Services, officials said today.

The board advises state government on issues involving preschool children at risk of developmental disabilities and delays.

The board also advises the state departments of education and health and environment on spending of federal funds received through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The board is made up of legislators, gubernatorial appointees and cabinet secretaries.

Finney, a Wichita Democrat, was appointed to the board by House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence.

“Rep. Finney is a vital member of the Legislature and will use her experience to serve the Coordinating Council well,” Davis said in a statement. “I know that she will do what is in the best interest of all Kansans who rely and depend on the Kansas ICC.”

Finney has represented a northeast Wichita district since 2009.